Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 4, Marvel Comics.
Volume four of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four (collecting issues 583-588) is the one that killed the long-running title—at least temporarily, and in a totally planned way. This is the one in which a member of the beloved team/family dies! And yeah, that’s happened a bunch of times over the years, and they’ve always come back. You’d be hard-pressed to find any of them that hadn’t been believed dead more than once. But to get into the spirit of the thing: Nooooo! Not one of the beloved Richards/Storm/Grimm clan! Oh, the superhumanity! OK, moving on.
Ominously subtitled “Three,” book four sends the Four (and Sue and Reed Richards’s children) off on separate adventures that could easily prove fatal to someone or other. (But who? WHO?) Supergenius daughter Valeria figures out what Reed’s been up to, hanging out with the legion of alternate-universe Reeds on the sly when Sue explicitly told him to stop monkeying around with the multiverse. So of course Valeria goes to hang around with her alternate daddies herself, with a visit to “Uncle Doom” for good measure. That’s one three-year-old seriously in need of some parental guidance, or at least a babysitter.
Meanwhile, Sue goes off to play diplomat at the first meeting between Namor the Sub-Mariner’s Atlanteans and the long-lost undersea races that resurfaced (well, without the “surface” part, anyway) in volume 2. It’s a good thing Subby is famously even-tempered and things are virtually assured to go smoothly. Oh wait, that never happens. My mistake.
The Thing finally takes the potion that allows him to shed his rocky carapace and finally become plain ol’ human Ben Grimm again for a limited time, and heads off for a night on the town with Johnny (which is ALWAYS a good idea). Oh, and Reed? Well, it turns out the Silver Surfer found the dead body of the Galactus of the future that Reed stashed underground a while ago, so Mr. Richards has some ’splaining to do to the still-quite-alive big guy of the present (big cosmic planet-eating guy at that).
All this, and the felgercarb hits the fan on Nu-Earth and in the Negative Zone as well. Oh yeah, and did I mention that somebody dies? Well, you can see how that might happen.
This volume is pretty packed with all that makes the Fantastic Four great. It continues to be old home week in terms of the menaces that the team is juggling, most of them from their earliest days, the difference being that in most cases they’re not fighting them so much as trying to manage them.
And even though most of the group is off on separate missions for most of the book, it’s full of great character moments for each of them—even Johnny, who’s seemed to get the short end of the stick during this run. (I haven’t minded so much personally, because he’s my least favorite member of the FF.)
Reed’s still the human genius that even a cosmic world devourer older than the Big Bang respects him and acknowledges him as an individual when usually whole species are beneath his notice. Sue gets to be the born leader she’s been all along, whom even an arrogant monarch like Namor pays tribute to. (The fact that he’s been mooning after her since their first meeting doesn’t exactly hurt.) Johnny gets to play noble, and Ben gets one of those tender human moments he always hungers for.
As for the death itself, it doesn’t have nearly the emotional impact of Skurge’s Last Stand from Walt Simonson’s Thor (which it somewhat resembles, along with Spock’s death from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), but it’s poignant enough, and a good send-off for the character until the inevitable resurrection.
The artist here is Steve Epting, who has a shadowy, realistic style that suits the tone of these chapters nicely. What’s more, his kid faces are refreshingly undisturbing after Neil Edwards’s renditions in the last couple of volumes.
The last issue of the collection is Fantastic Four #588, which would be the last issue of the title until its splashy resurgence with issue 600. (More on that next week.) This final-for-now issue is one of mourning for the departed member of the FF, and it’s almost entirely wordless, a series of silent vignettes conveyed entirely through the graphic storytelling of Nick Dragotta, who steps in on art duties for this issue. In that sense, it’s vaguely reminiscent of “The Body,” the stark episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entirely devoted to grieving for a loved one. The silence is awfully effective, giving some powerful glimpses at the private grief of each member of the family.
The small bit of dialogue that there is takes place in a heart-to-heart between young Franklin Richards and Spider-Man, which is a terribly touching place to leave off.
In the next volume: The Fantastic Four is no more! What will rise to replace it? Check in next Friday to find out!